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Subject: WNO 1st ever Annual Opera Gala Concert conquers all (6-3-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 5 Jun 2017 17:15:32 -0400
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For the past 42 of its 60+ years, the Washington National Opera has had an annual opera ball, and to quote Kennedy Center CEO David Rubenstein's mid-concert speech, "it was neither an opera nor a ball." We had attended this event numerous times and it always was a grand social affair and party, but often failed to have music as its theme (although the last seral years featured performances--if a bit ignored--by young artists at the ball itself. This year the WNO took a turn and I think it was indeed for the better. The evening began with a lush cocktail and hor's d'oevres hour on the Potomac River Terrace at 530pm and the temperature was 78 with sunny skies, so it was simply perfect. There was way too much food including huge platters of fish and meats and lots of passed goodies, but then came the 90+ minute concert. billed as celebrating the end of the seven years of Jacqueline Badger Mars as the Chairman of the WNO Board of Trustees.

As we settled into our seats and the concert began typically late, the voice of Robert Aubry Davis came from somewhere backstage as the orchestra of 71 took their seats one the extended stage (so the pit was removed). Rear wall projections showed various productions and featured singers over the years and Maestro Philippe Auguin came to the stage to lead them in Bernstein's Candide Overture. It was delicious, but I wish someone had given a commercial for this work being performed next season as part of the Bernstein Centennial which is running most of the year at the KenCen!

Brian Stokes Mitchell was introduced as the "host" for the evening, although he made some silly little chitchat, he really didn't do much except to come back later for one song.

Next up was Jordan Donica, from the cast of Hamilton,  singing "Feeling Good" where the huge orchestra broke loose in the jazzy mid-section making us really appreciate the wonders of an orchestra with music that so rarely obtains it.

Denyce Graves gave us a luscious "Mon Coeur s'oevre a ta voix" from Samson et Dalila (I failed to mention that most of the Bway sections were brilliantly conducted by Stephen Mercurio).  It's a role she can still deliver on and she looked gorgeous in her long low cut red gown.

Solomon Howard sang a superb Banquo's aria and I was beginning to think the "theme" of the evening, "Trading Voices" was lost as Mr. Mitchell did say opera singers and Broadway folks would be meandering across vocal lines. I didn't mind, but why have a theme and ignore it.

Leslie Odom Jr. (also from Hamilton, but famous for other Broadway outings such as Rent) was superb in Porgy & Bess' "There's A Boat That's Leaving Soon for New York!"

Renee Fleming also looked magnificent in her glittering sequin gown, but alas sang only one selection, O Mio babbino caro, declaring it was Jackie Mars' favorite. She had to run off to another panel event at the Kennedy Center and was unable to even take a final bow later on.

Mr. Donica returned for a magnificent "Music of the Night" from Phantom where he took all the floated high notes and spun them around for fun.

Aretha Franklin had been on the schedule, but cancelled a day or two prior and the WNO managed to obtain Cynthia Erivo as a replacement. Being a musical theater person, I knew of her Tony for The Color Purple, but was unaware of her Grammy Awards and an Emmy as well! She sported a gold and silvery sequined gown as well, but nobody was looking at that once she began to sing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Mis.  She got into the song in a total jazzy take that was brilliant. Despite the fact that there were prompters at the rear of the house (maybe she couldn't see them) she did change one of the stanza's words from "And dreams were made and used and wasted. There was no ransom to be paid, no song unsung, no wine untasted" to the last words "nothing was wasted..." I noticed it, but it really didn't matter, because she sang her heart out and the awesome finale was a riff that went on for what seemed ages as she held note after note.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, Ms. Graves returned for "Ole Man River" and boy did she deliver some bass low notes I never knew she had!

Mr. Mitchell returned for his one sung number of the night, Porgy & Bess' "It Ain't Necessarily So," where we he joined by the WNO Chorus, who sadly didn't get much of chance to show off all evening. I can't say this was my favorite rendition as he got kind of silly as he was down on the floor and then all of a sudden decided not to finish the last stanzas of the song!

This was where Mr. Rubenstein and Francesca Zambello gave the salute to the wonderful, and also gorgeous Jackie Mars, who has been a reliable and amazing fixture at the opera for so long; luckily she is remaining on the board as was named Chairman Emeritus! Mr. Rubenstein also announced that this event made $2.3million, which is more than any previous DC Opera Ball, so I guess this is how it will be for a while.

Mr. Odom did get to sing one song from Hamilton, and it was the quiet reflexive "Wait for It" which was followed by the spectacular fireworks display. You may ask how did they manage to shoot of fireworks IN the Opera House. It's easy when you have Cynthia Erivo sing "Nessun Dorma." Knowing that this was a signature of Aretha Franklin, it took guts for her to even try it, and I found out later in the evening that she only got the words the day before (and of course, does not speak Italian!) She was now wearing a white glittery gown, but again, all forgotten even when she slightly mispronounced the opening words. The chorus was in the rear for the opening mantra and when she began to soar and take off it was an amazing experience she took us all on with her.  I am indeed a traditionalist, but this was fun and wild and a roller coaster of music that really had the audience going wild.

There was an ovation at the end as the entire cast came out, but do have to say the only real standing ovation all evening was for Jackie Mars, and boy did she deserve it.


The show was slated for 630-8pm and once over, the major donors were all invited to Embassies for gala dinners hosted by the various and generous ambassadors. Ten of us headed to The Honourable Tim Grosser's home at the Residence of the Embassy of New Zealnd for more hor's d'oevres and champagne followed by a spectacular eight course meal, which did not get me home until almost 1AM. I can assure I won't miss the Opera Ball if we get events like this in DC!



ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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